Happy April Everyone!
This month I would like to talk about a topic that can seem a little controversial at times; the fishing industry. I’m sure you have all noticed that ‘reducing or cutting seafood consumption’ is often something that I mention when in discussion on minimising our impact on the marine environment, and all of its beautiful inhabitants. Seafood sustainability; or, the lack of is a rather large topic, so I thought this month I might focus on a single aspect of this industry; shrimp trawling and its shocking impacts on our blue backyard.
Many people feel quite passionate about their diets. Some become understandably upset when others suggest changing these dietary habits that many of us have grown up with, and probably associate with tradition, religion, and preference. When environmentalists talk about this subject, it is not meant to ‘point the finger’, or make anyone feel bad, the reality is that most consumers do not know about the destruction involved in the harvesting of their seafood products. Most businesses behind the seafood industry would cause themselves economic hardship if they were to be brutally honest about the damage they are doing to our marine ecosystems. But, knowledge is power- and our dollars are also power, and us, as consumers, have a say in what happens in this world. So today is simply about voicing some truths about how shrimp get to our dinner plates, so people can make more informed decisions about the food they eat and impact they have on the environment. I hope you will all put some extra time into researching this topic to further inform yourself, as it is a huge one!
Photographed by @ellehaskin
So! Let’s get down to it. Who here loves a Christmas seafood lunch and those big orange prawns (Aussies in the room?!), or a shrimp cocktail when you’re on vacation in the tropics, or shrimp in your Asian-style dishes when you’re out for dinner with friends? Probably a lot of us! And fair enough too, most of us have been brought up with these foods as special occasion treats, or maybe even regular dishes- without the devastating destruction it causes every occurring to us.
I am going to list a few things about the reality of eating shrimp (much literature use the terms shrimp and prawn interchangeably, so I will be doing the same):
The reality of Bycatch
• Shrimp is an expensive luxury food item. It can be up to 30 times more valuable than other seafood products, so often any by-catch caught by the shrimp trawling vessels is not economically worth keeping on the boat, this by-catch often dies in the fishing process (1)
• On average, the shrimp to by-catch ratio is about 1:5 in temperate waters, 1:10 in tropical waters, and in Australian waters the highest recording has been 1:21 (in Northern Australia). That is an unjustifiable amount of waste, as by-catch is often returned to the sea either dead or injured (opening them up to predation) (2).
• The animals which are often included in the ‘by-catch kills’ are: (mostly) fish, sea turtles (all of which are threatened), sea snakes, sharks, rays crabs, and many more. All play a vital role in ecosystem functioning, and it is impossible for us to tell exactly how these ecosystems will attempt to compensate for the loss of biodiversity. Trawlers have been known to catch up to 400 species of marine creatures in their nets (3)
- Trawling in itself is a destructive method of fishing which often involves dragging a huge net with weights attached across the seafloor, collecting everything it passes (hence the crazy by-catch ratios), and disrupting the sea floor’s substrate composition (which could include very slow growing corals, sea grasses and sea fans, and much more). It is considered a destructive fishing method (4).
- Around the world, nearly 3 billion people rely on the ocean as a source of food or income, active trawling in coastal regions can heavily effects these people’s ability to fish, potentially intensifying poverty. Most of these coastal communities will never see the economic gains made by shrimp trawlers (5)
- Farmed shrimp is responsible for only about 1/3 of the market. Farmed isn’t necessarily a good thing like many consumers are brought to believe as it will be fed around twice their weight in wild caught fish before being sold. Shrimp farms have been known to displace local communities and disrupt coastal terrestrial ecosystems (6).
Sweeping the Ocean Floor
As mentioned above, many people rely on fishing as a (primary) food and income source. By no means should these people be put under pressure to halt or change their lifestyles. In my opinion- it should be us, the people who were lucky enough to be born into privilege and have this choice to chose things such as diet, who should be making the changes. At least, that’s what makes sense to me, I’m sure most reasonable people would believe the same. <3
I gave up meat 12 years ago, before that I ate limited seafood occasionally, and 4 years ago I decided to make the swap to veganism to further reduce my impact on the resources of this planet. I didn’t get ill, and to this day I feel healthy, motivated, and feel as though I’m living more in sync with my morals than I ever have in the past. Since then I have also tried living single-use plastic free, this has proven to be the most difficult step so far but I am actively seeking to improve on a day to day basis. These small changes help the oceans in small ways.
We can all reduce, and where possible cut out the products we consume that are particularly harmful to our environment and our future. Each of us is unique, and can make changes and choices that are realistic to each of us to help this planet. We just need to do it together.
Until next month! XXX Elle Haskin
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(1) (EJF. 2003. Squandering the Seas: How shrimp trawling is threatening ecological integrity and food security around the world. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.)
(2) (EJF. 2003. Squandering the Seas: How shrimp trawling is threatening ecological integrity and food security around the world. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.)
(3) (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018, http://www.fao.org/docrep/W6602E/w6602E09.htm, and EJF. 2003. Squandering the Seas: How shrimp trawling is threatening ecological integrity and food security around the world. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.)
(4) (Marine Conservation Institute, 2018, https://marine-conservation.org/what-we-do/program-areas/how-we-fish/destructive-fishing/)
(5) (UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2018, http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/oceans/)
(6) (EJF. 2003. Squandering the Seas: How shrimp trawling is threatening ecological integrity and food security around the world. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.)